Polite Society

Mahesh Rao’s Polite Society is a viciously funny black comedy of manners whereas in Austen’s Emma nothing really bad happens. Polite Society is the darker cousin of Austen’s Emma – you know the talons will come out at a point and the characters will get hurt. In Austen’s world, there are allusions but here we see the ugliness that lies behind picture perfect lives. I liked the book for its refreshing lack of morality, and there certainly is no redemption. By now you know not to expect a happy ending. A biting social commentary for the 21st century set in the snobby upper echelons of Delhi, just as segregated as Highbury.

All the characters from Aisha danced around in my head merging with the brilliant adaptation of Emma by Autumn de Wilde (that’s really her name!) plus the original characters from Austen’s Emma which I finished in lockdown (with a little help from the brilliant audiobook which made me feel as if I was listening to a radio dramatization). In 2019 I read a contemporary adaptation by Alexander McCall Smith which was neither here nor there. I had my bases covered, you see.

Ania Khurana, our Delhi Emma, is as vapid as Sonam’s Aisha. (Many people trashed the film but I liked it except for the trite ending.) Ania lives in a bungalow teeming with servants but there‚Äôs no one she can be honest with. The paparazzi track her every move. For all her material trappings, she is terribly lonely. Ania is rich but not really the daddy’s girl like Emma was. Ania and her father don’t have much of a relationship even though they live in the same mansion. The affection that Emma lavished on Mr Woodhouse is absent here perhaps because Dileep Khurana appears to be a cold father (it takes two to build a relationship). All we want in life, whether rich or poor, is to be accepted for who we are, and feel a little less alone.

A character I wanted to know more about was Dev (it will always be Abhay Deol in my mind). He has a fleeting presence in the book hovering in the background. He never shouts at Ania just teases her or ticks her off gently (No mansplaining like Mr Knightley). Where Mr Knightley remains superior to all and sundry, Dev’s pursuit of intelligence and appreciation of intellect lands him in a quandary many a time. In short, Dev is Mr Knightley, who has been humanized and hence more real.

Renu Bua is the unmarried older woman modelled after Miss Taylor. She may not be treated with outright contempt but she has a lesser importance both inside and outside the house until she gets married and moves out. Old maids are still a thing. So much for all our modernity.

The author writes women well. (I am always surprised when men write women well!) The characters’ inner motivations are revealed in the chapters given to them which was quite interesting and a departure from Austen’s Emma. You see what they think about themselves, where they are really come from, and how it contrasts with the facade they have built for the world.

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Our education system

Why don’t I ever come across people who donate Tintin comics why why why? Oh, wait I just did. On my face is gleeful smile which makes me look like a maniac but for once I’m not bothered. I didn’t know there were people, species of human, who give their Tintin comics away. Now as a crusty adult I have books which I won’t reread, ergo give them away so maybe these kids are detached like that from the beginning which is just as well (my conversion is fairly recent). And, also they have no time to reread so why clutter the house?

Okay, really. What kind of a childhood is it where children have no time to read comics forget reread books for leisure? I wonder if that affects their psyche in any way. *Reminds self to look up studies in this regard.*

Leisure is a bad word. Possibly worse than murder. What can I say I recently watched The White Tiger, and murder is on my mind.
Fill up their time.
Fill up fill up fill up

Fill up their day with all sorts of activities.
Let not a moment go waste.
Lest they will be out of the rat race.

Human parents who want their children to be lab rats.
Race race race
To the invisible finish line
And to what end?
To be the same in a million – different genes but expressing identical thoughts (peas in a pod but not in a good way). Thinking for oneself thrown out of the window!

Studying English and Mathematics is still understandable but why on Earth would you teach coding to a 10 year old? Aren’t today’s kids burdened enough? I feel for children who aren’t allowed to play on weekdays. I knew a couple of them growing up and while we played they studied. I can’t speak for them but my childhood wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t been allowed to let off steam after school. There should always be time to ride a bicycle. But then who am I, an aimless wanderer with no riches to my name, to say anything at all to today’s smart kids ?

Newton by Amit Masurkar

I loved Newton so much I hoped it would be a series. I forced myself to go see it because I was unwell. I chose well because I came home invigorated albeit with a headache thanks to the blinding September sun. What times those were, solo movie outings in half empty theatres.

The writing is brilliant. We see the ground reality but the narrative is peppered with laughs drawing out maximum humour, mining it from unlikely places due to astute observations, proper research, and of course the incredible cast. It’s a treat to watch excellent actors play off each other. Watching Pankaj Tripathi’s interview today where he got asked about a scene from Newton I realized I hadn’t done what I had promised myself once I saw the film, I’d tell everyone to see it on a streaming platform. So here I am three years later!

Pankaj Tripathi is a class act injecting life into his part, and I will be watching this movie again for him alone. He was one of the best things for me in Bareilly ki Barfi apart from Seema Pahwa of course. Rajkumar Rao is spellbinding as Newton. We see the world through Newton’s eyes but the film is balanced with varied viewpoints which is a rare thing. One is the local Malko played by Anjali Patil (who was spectacular in Afsos) who has grown up seeing these “elections” so it doesn’t surprise her. And the other by Tripathi whose posting in Naxal infested areas have hardened him or perhaps made him more practical. He isn’t going to be taught about rules nor is he going to run a fool’s errand. Newton allows us to make up our minds, and doesn’t try to tell us what’s right or wrong.

I have come to believe that stellar actors can make any role their own. If this is not star power I don’t know what is, getting under the skin of the characters, making them believable, and not caricatures which Malko could so easily have been. And it doesn’t laugh at Newton. It shows us Newton as he is but doesn’t tell us why he’s the way he is. This is the rare film which doesn’t spoon-feed the audience or try to do their thinking for them. Continue reading “Newton by Amit Masurkar”

School of life

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Instead of teaching us geometry and mensuration why were we not taught basic survival skills, when we still had the energy to learn them? How to cope with a bad day or a bad partner (that is if you are lucky to have already chosen one!)? Making a perfect circle with a rounder requires precision but even better is a round roti, if one wants to fit in, I suppose. I don’t know about you but sticking out like a sore thumb is somehow less appealing during the times we are living in. Maybe not better just aesthetically pleasing. Not for me a job well done and all that, but the quiet sound of people other than my mother reaching out for my rotis. Mine turn out to be map-like hence I stick to baking where failure is less easily noticeable (especially if you have a sweet tooth) and you can always blame the elements!

Why weren’t we apprised of the fact that life isn’t neatly divided into past, present and future like the tenses we were so diligently taught in school? Just because you ate tiffin (lunch break it was but lunch it never was) together (okay you ate your friend’s tiffin and your friend ate yours!) and sat together in classes for nearly half a decade doesn’t mean that you will remain friends or even in the periphery of each other’s lives. From seeing each other everyday to now just seeing or liking their posts. If you are lucky that is! Oh yes, hate following is a thing.

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Book talk – Normal People by Sally Rooney

wp-15921579591542144702135574400385.jpgNormal People is one of the most uncomfortable books I have read in a while. I simultaneously wanted to stop reading yet wanted to know what would happen next. Sally Rooney’s book is an emotional roller coaster and anxiety inducing. Warning – this is not a romance romance. Trigger warning for abuse, anxiety and depression. Had I known what an intense and disquieting read it would be I wouldn’t have read it now. Who am I kidding! Once I read the excerpt after hearing about the BBC series there was no looking back. I read a few pages of Conversations with Friends (Rooney’s first book) and it’s no beach read either. The last book that caused me to squirm, curl up into a ball and cry was Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. I didn’t cry while reading Normal People but the sense of unease was palpable.

The spotlight is on Connell and Marianne, and the people they are involved with during different times. You could say they are the leads and the rest are supporting characters which come, and go out of focus as per the requirement. We follow them from high school to four years of college but it seems much longer because of the minute way the book observes them.

They without knowing it save each other from their most destructive selves. A lot of tears (most of it hidden from each other), and of words unsaid due to which misunderstandings abound, but in the end they always find a way to be in each other’s lives. I didn’t look at them as a will they won’t they couple because even when they were apart something kept them connected, and that for me is the beauty of the book, and human relationships.

Their wanting everything to be easy but not being entirely comfortable with the arrangement but acting like they are, is the facade that protects them, and devastates them in equal measure. In short, acting insouciant but caring deeply. It takes too much out of them to appear casual when they would just be happy being who they are.

Someone appears calm or put together doesn’t mean they are. Someone appears independent doesn’t mean they are. What we portray to the world is an image that we want the world to see, the idea we want to present of ourselves, and that acts as a carapace to protect our real fragile selves.

I thought I would nod off to sleep as is my wont with audiobooks but the abrupt ending had me sitting upright. It’s a short book but it will linger on your mind.

Possible spoilers ahead.

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LGBT YA books by Indian authors

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Dutee Chand coming out as India’s first gay athlete inspired this post. And June is Pride Month after all. What is it about homosexuality that makes other people so uncomfortable, other than the obvious? Love is love, isn’t it? But these barriers have been there since eternity in our society where any kind of difference from what is considered normal, is well, considered abnormal. Ask Oscar Wilde who penned the incredibly moving De Profundis when in jail. He dared to be himself (and loved the wrong man), and in stifling Victorian society that is an unforgivable sin.

Being a teenager is hard enough as it is, with conflicting emotions about the changes that are taking place in their bodies, and the formation of one’s identity yet craving to be accepted by peers. They could do without society breathing down their necks telling them they have to fit in or or hide who they are which is damaging to their psyche. It is essential to live your life on your terms and be who you are. Life is too short to go about feeling inadequate. If there was ever a time to be defiant this is the time, with the government acting like Big Brother. Things are changing, I agree, but not fast enough, at least in the Indian context.

I have a soft spot for well written young adult literature (perhaps because growing up YA as a genre didn’t really exist) and YA books written by Indian authors are still precious. Payal Dhar’s Slightly Burnt and Himanjali Sankar’s Talking of Muskaan are rare books in Indian YA pantheon which deal with the taboo subject of homosexuality in their own way. These books were written when Article 377 hadn’t been lifted. It makes them all the more important because they took a stand when taking a stand mattered.

These books are well written and engaging though very different in tone, texture and style. We have three narrators in Talking of Muskaan and it is comparatively darker compared to Slightly Burnt. The latter embraces homosexuality in a lighthearted way because of the themes it deals with.

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I, Daniel Blake and not giving up

I saw I, Daniel Blake (the comma is important) sometime ago but it left an indelible impression on me. It is a film with its heart in the right place, and it is inspired from reality. I will be talking about what I felt after watching the film. Though I have tried not to be specific you will get an idea about the general premise of the film so spoilers ahead.

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What is a man with a heart condition to do? Forced to eke out a living when declared fit by the state but not actually in a condition to work – a conundrum I hope no one ever has to face. We live in a world where government apathy is so systematized that it doesn’t seem like apathy at all. I thought we in India had bad governments but the rest of the world isn’t so different when it comes to denying upstanding taxpayers their rights and making them run from pillar to post.

You are entitled to benefits but the State has frozen it. Along with Daniel, we see the plight of another young woman with children. She feeds her kids but goes without meals herself until she nearly faints with hunger. She’s desperate for any kind of work because she has to look after her kids. She steals essentials from the supermarket because she doesn’t have the money to buy them. What doesn’t kill you doesn’t always make you stronger. It breaks you, tests you and sometimes you keel over. If you survive, you somehow find the strength to keep walking, hoping against hope that your life will limp back to normalcy. What is normal anyhow.

India doesn’t even have these kinds of laws or these benefits so we are not even in the running to be an ideal or a model country (cue in derisive laughter). A country is known by how it treats its poor and helpless citizens, both young and the old, and in that regard India is a terrible country. And I found out our colonizer Britain is no better in spite of having amassed wealth (by leeching off from countries like ours) and in a much better position to help its people.

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The Mentalist to the rescue

What are the odds of me peeling an orange at the exact time as Simon Baker is peeling one in The Mentalist? It’s a pity I have never broken off an orange or for that matter an apple from a branch and eaten it (another one for my bucket list). You can call it a coincidence but looking at it as a matter of chance takes the magic out of life and makes the words serendipity or happenstance (if you prefer) redundant. I understand that sometimes you have to let go of fanciful notions and think practically. What. I didn’t get to be three decades old without knowing something about how the world functions.

It wouldn’t do to complicate life by overthinking I have realized. (Turtles All The Way Down was a great help in this regard, thank you John Green). As a bookish reflective sort I have a tendency to brood and try to figure things out (read stew in it) when it should be left to life to sort out the mess.

And here I see Patrick enjoying an orange plucked straight from the tree after knowing something terrible. Don’t dismiss it by saying it’s fiction. There are people who feel deeply but don’t shed tears. I knew such a person. They internalize their grief and hide their disappointments from the world. They deal with it on their own.

There’s always a reason to smile and many reasons to live for, that is if you look at life the glass half full way (sometimes it pays to be an optimist) and not in the pessimistic glass half empty manner. I need to keep reminding myself of that.

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Miss me? Not really.

Miss me? Not really is the short answer. For the long answer read below.

I do but I don’t want to deal with all the things that follow in your wake. It’s a chore and like blizzards always intense. Why is it never sunny? It was a deadly winter and I need to survive.

Why so many lies or omissions of truth, in your words? Why promises that you won’t keep and had never intended to keep in the first place, made only for the sake of making yourself look good?

I catch myself thinking you would like Inspector Montalbano or tell you that I found peace in volunteering. I wanted to tell you the person who loved me most in the world was dying and ask you what the right thing to do was. But I could never get past how formal and cold we had become. And you had never shown any interest before in spite of knowing the circumstances. So I absolve myself from all guilt.

It doesn’t matter now because I have seen through you. Perhaps there is a price you pay for being naive stupid. Believing you was my Achilles heel. The amazing thing is the disbelief because I am not usually the kind of person who gets caught up in this kind of drama. You proved me wrong yet again and my only consolation is for everything in life there is a first time (and hopefully a last time).

Why is there never a straight answer but only roundabout clues? It’s a maze I am tired of navigating and red herrings I am tired of dodging. You probably think people have a lot of time on their hands to brood over things. Let me correct you. They don’t. Survival takes precedence. Wading through your mess without complaining, I laugh to myself thinking about it now. Didn’t anyone tell you I don’t even like getting my feet wet and here I am drowning. I don’t even know how I got here. Oh wait you knew I disliked it yet continued to pour water saying it will quench my thirst.

What’s the use of saying pretty please, listen to me? What will I do with it, you selfish pig? Once someone tells you truth, instead of acknowledging it, you wave it aside and walk away only to come back to stomp on their hearts later. I wish you would vanish into the unknown never to be seen. Wait, that’s not completely true. In this age of social media I check if you are alive by stalking you online like normal people.

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The perks of getting older

That urge to revisit. To take things slow. To see a film again. To read a much loved book again and not rush the process. It appears contradictory because as we grow older we realize we have less time. But really knowing something changes things, doesn’t it? I know I will never be able to read all the books I want, watch all the movies and series I want. Time is more limited than I had thought and flies far more quickly, especially when you are not paying attention. I realize being aware of your mortality is a good thing.

It is the strangest thing. On some days going through a day is hard with time barely passing, and getting to the next day is a struggle. Yet we struggle with time. If that is not a paradox I don’t know what is. If nothing life has a sense of humour. Irony is what makes the world go around.